omg behind the scenes at the aquarium

i can’t tell you how much i enjoyed taking a behind the scenes tour of the atlanta aquarium today.  i just love gadgets.

don’t you want to build this with pipe cleaners?

i could have been an engineer (sigh), but the closest i got was a technical drawing class in college.

altho the sponsor of my dolphin has gone to great lengths to help me do a really cool dolphin (not that they’re responsible for any faults in the project), the outdid themselves when they escorted me and jim around their handiwork at the aquarium.

just random pipes and ducts

jim and i met the others on the loading dock, barbara the freelance writer who was doing a piece for the newsletter, andrea my main contact at the sponsor’s, and david the engineer who put in and fabricated all the pipes and ducts for the entire aquarium.  and we were joined by eric, who’s been in life support systems at the aquarium since before it was open.  such a wealth of experience.

my entourage at a serious moment

they were really patient with what little i knew from my days with a 20 gallon aquarium and an above ground pool we used to have.  i can be a serious pain in the ass.

david joked that when they first saw the main pump floor, a huge cavernous place that held some 70-odd pumps and double that in sand filters (each holding 20,000 gallons?) – when they first saw the space they were going to put all this equipment in, they thought it was enormous, and they’d never fill it up.  just like you felt when you got your first multi-gig hard drive, right?  the pump room was crisscrossed and orchestrated around almost as tight as a ship’s fittings.

pumps to the left, sand filters are blue tanks in the background

first we went into the basement and looked at the 54″ pipes, huge feckers that drain the main fish tank, i think the ocean voyager.  the water gets drained out of the bottom of the tank at the bottom, and then they split off into 24″ pipes on the floor above.  that’s where they have a big solids tank, for the gunge that you pick up with the vacuum thingie and drain into a bucket at home.  i want the leftovers for my compost pile, yessir.

if these aren’t the largest pipes, they’re close

the wheel is a butterfly valve and the lever below is a something valve that pressure from above keeps shut. backwash.

the pipes keep getting smaller until you’re on top of the tanks, but when we got to the top of the tanks i stopped looking at pipes because there were all these way cool fish, just inches from me.  and the water was 72 degrees, and they had to hold me back because i wanted to go swimming.  it looked like an olympic sized pool, and even over at the other end, there was a small group of people actually diving with the whale sharks, man what a way to spend a monday afternoon.

yep, we were just standing there looking at the swimming pool when damn

i started noticing the small pipes at the top when we went over to the top of the reef tank (passing thru the top of the beluga tank (am i lucky or what?)).  the reef tank is under a skylight because it’s a real live reef and needs real actual sun.  that and millions of lights that really heated the place up.  we saw mini pumps and skimmers (still giants, but really), and this really cool bulldozer bucket-like thing that dumps water into the tank and makes these way cool waves that you see from below.

upstairs on top of the reef tank.  i don’t know what i’m looking at, almost

then thru the other main hall (the first main hall had all those pumps and filters).  this one was lined with pipes on the ceilings, nice big ones, and maybe some ducts, and then electrical conduit.  just like a bunch of basements everywhere, as much corridors for the pipes as for the people.  we went down to our guide’s office, where he showed us the monitoring system, a schematic with simplified drawings of the pumps and filters and tanks, with temperatures and pressures and flow rates, very good for understanding wtf, because i’ll confess that the schematic drawing of the pump room that they had framed and up on the wall was very complex, very disorienting.

the main pump room, extending the length of this massive building and half the width.  wow.

boy was i impressed.  while we were there eric ducked into the tool room and came out holding their contribution to the halloween pumpkin contest there at the aquarium.  something warm and fuzzy won, but their entry was a bunch of pumps, filters and pipes running into the pumpkin, which is exactly what i want to do with my dolphin.  i almost wet myself excuse me, when i saw it, and photographed it and asked about this little part and cooed over that little part until he gave it to me.

i feel like the universe is celebrating my birthday.  first this way cool guided and totally individualized tour of way cool nerdlike gadgets and systems and even ways of thinking, and then a mockup made by experts that took them two days to make – you can’t buy gifts like these, and i don’t know what i did to deserve people treating me so nicely, but boy i lap it up.  thank you thank you thank you.

what a wonderful day.  it rained all day, which always lightens my mood, and i got to crawl thru subterranean realms with denizens of the place as guides.  for the price of covered parking.  and take all the pictures, and ask all the fool questions, and feel really good about the people i was with, and then get a priceless piece of hardware to attach to my dolphin on top of all the cool stuff the sponsor has already given me to put on.  and i’m getting paid to do it, this is just too cool.

doesn’t it make you want to quit your day job and be an artist?

and then we went into the front of the house and ducked into the reef exhibit

just so i could see how much distortion there is looking thru a foot of plexiglass.  the tanks is 15 feet wide at the reef end, you can see that from above.  but when you look at it thru the glass, it looks right in front of you, and vertical, which it isn’t at all.

so i’m back home, in the studio, with my great set of homemade pumps sitting at the foot of my dolphin, who still has all the tape marks from yesterday when i put the clothes on him for a moment.

life is grand.


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